Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Hansel and Gretel at the Sydney Opera House

Like many of the folk tales that the German brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, collected in the 19th century - including Cinderella, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White andThe Frog Prince - the haunting saga of Hansel and Gretel has continued to be told, to be read and to be filmed. One of humanity’s most enduring stories, today it’s printed in more than 100 languages.

It is a dark tale of hardship and hunger, of children abandoned by their parents and of an evil old woman who preys on the young. But, as writer Neil Gaiman says: “If you are protected from dark things, then you are unprepared to deal with dark things if ever they show up. I think it’s important to show dark things to kids—and in the showing of them, to also demonstrate that dark things can be beaten, that you have the power to fight back, that you can win.”

The obvious lesson to be learned from Hansel and Gretel is to “never take candy from a stranger”. But, in truth, this unsettling story - collected by the Grimm brothers in 1812 – was never designed as a moral tale but rather as a reflection on the fact that in medieval times - during periods of famine - many families were forced to abandon their children.

When unusually heavy rain began to fall in Europe, during the spring of 1315, the crops failed, the cost of food rose and people began to go hungry. The rain continued throughout the summer. People ate edible roots, plants, and tree bark: anything to stay alive. Domestic animals were butchered, seed grain was consumed, children were abandoned to fend for themselves and many elderly people refused to eat so that their grandchildren might survive. Many incidents of cannibalism were reported.

Seven hundred years later, children still disappear; war and catastrophic weather still result in terrible hardship and starvation. There is a lot that is familiar today in Hansel and Gretel.

Now re-imagined by director, Rodney Fisher AM, to encompass both its historical basis and its current relevance, the story is being told at the Opera House by the wonderfully charismatic Amanda Muggleton. The outstanding duo - violinist Victoria Jacono-Gilmovich and pianist, John Martin – provide the dazzling musical accompaniment, which is the work of the brilliant Australian composer, Elena Kats-Chernin.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Proper Care of String Instruments

A good string instrument is not made in a day , but rather is the product of many months of the most painstaking and expert work. To give an instrument proper care requires little time , and is not a difficult task. Regular attention to the following details will help keep a string instrument in the best playing condition.

The Most Important rule: Always keep the instrument in its case when not in use.

Never , under any circumstances , allow anyone but an expert string instrument repairer to repair your instrument. More fine instruments have been ruined by inexperienced repairers than in any other way. Even though the repair needed seems of a minor nature , be sure to place your instrument in skilled hands.

The instrument should not be subjected to rapid changes in temperature , so far as possible. When taking the instrument outdoors , it should be kept in its case , particularly in extremely hot or cold weather. Also , the instrument should not be exposed to hot sun. Care should be taken to store the instrument in a place with moderate humidity , away from heating.

A soft cloth , preferably flannel , should be used to remove the rosin dust from the instrument , the strings , and from the bow stick after each usage. An excessive accumulation of rosin dust on the strings can be removed by lightly scraping the strings with the thumb nail. NEVER TOUCH THE INSTRUMENT VARNISH WITH ALCOHOL. Alcohol is a solvent and will damage the varnish on a string instrument beyond recovery. When extensive cleaning is requires , the instrument should be given to an expert repairer.

The bridge is normally positioned between the inner f-hole notches , and the feet of the bridge are fitted so that the back side (nearest to the tailpiece) is perpendicular to the top of the instrument. The pull of the strings constantly forces the bridge to incline toward the fingerboard. For this reason , the bridge should be checked frequently and returned to the proper position , so that it minimises the bridge warping and even breaking. This is best done by grasping the bridge at both upper corners with the thumb and first finger of each hand , while holding the instrument firmly braced , and gently forcing the top of the bridge backward to the proper angle.

In general , strings are replaced one at a time. To replace a complete set of strings , remove only one string at a time. Start with the two middle strings removing the old one , putting on the new one and bringing it up to pitch , then the outside strings.
 Every player will do well to carry a complete set of spare strings for immediate replacement in case a string should break or become false. One small but very important detail involves a frequent check that the string tuners used for metal strings have not been turned down so far as to scratch the top of the instrument. This also prevents tuning the string properly.

The length , fitting and position of the sound post require individual adjustment specifically for each instrument. If the post is too short  the pressure of the strings will , in time , pull down and warp the top; if it is too long , wither the top or back , or both may warp or even crack. A sound post of improper length can sometimes be detected by the level of the F-hole wings in relation to the instrument top. In any event , the fitting and adjustment of a sound post should be done by an expert.

The bass bar , like the sound post , has two functions-to aid int he amplification of tone and to help support the top against the string pressure. Its proper proportions and placement mean a great deal to the time and general health of the instrument If the tone of your instrument seems to be suffering from some unknown trouble , do not allow an inexperienced repairer to lay the fault to the bass bar and proceed to replace it. seem expert advice in every case.

Even the very best grade ebony will develop grooves under the strings. When this happens , it is necessary to have the board planed (dressed). This must be expertly done so as not to alter the arch of the fingerboard. A slight concave dip , extending the length of the fingerboard , is required for proper string clearance. The fingerboard nut should also be checked occasionally and replaced when it has become too deeply grooved.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Commonly Asked AMEB questions!

What Should I wear to the exam?
There is no dress code , but I'd recommend smart casual to semi-formal. If you are learning an instrument through a school , check to see whether your school requires you to be in your school uniform. You wont be judged or marked on your appearance , but its a general sign of respect if you turn up well presented.

So I need to complete every grade of exam?
No , you dont need to complete a particular grade before moving onto the next. Having said that , by about 6th grade you will need to have completed particular grades in Musicianship or Music Theory to be able to recive your practical results. eg for Grade 6 practical , you are expected to have sat your grade 3 theory , Grade 7 practical requires grade 4 theory and so on.

How often do i need to sit an exam?
There are no rules and this depends on your preparation and ability. On average its 1 exam per year , but some people can easily pull of 2 exams a year.

Monday, April 20, 2015

AMEB General Knowledge requirements

During AMEB exams , the examiner will ask you some specific questions about your Main list Pieces (not the extra lists).

Generally you should make yourself familiar with all the Terms and Signs in your music , Some info on the composer who wrote the piece , the title of the piece (if its in a particular style or is a part of a larger work perhaps) , The Form , Keys , Key signature and Time Signature.

In the Higher Grades , Also add your knowledge of modulations , the style and period that your piece came from , the contemporaries of the composer , and perhaps some history of your instrument that comes from the period of the composition.

In some cases if you are using AMEB printed books , there can already be an accompanying book with all this information , otherwise the information has to be researched or bought elsewhere.

I am slowly building up a list of Violin and Viola specific general Knowledge files at

Monday, April 13, 2015

AMEB Aural Tests

Aural/Ear tests are small examples of music that will first be played to you , and then they require you to respond musically by listening , singing , clapping or recognising certain elements of the music.

Most of the tests are played on the piano by the examiner twice , but in the higher grades there are also small tests which require students to look at  a piece of music for a minute and then attempt to recall all the music on their given instrument.

There are a number of ipad/iphone apps that can assist you with developing your skills , and for the AMEB , there is an app calls "Auralbook" which gives specific examples that match those of the AMEB grades.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

AMEB examination tips for all instruments!

Repeats in your performance Pieces:

You are not required to do any repeats in the examination..however no one is really stopping you doing them if you really want to! However , any Da Capo or Dal Segno indications MUST be these usually return to the beginning which changes the form or the whole piece moreso than a repeat of a section.

Even when not doing the repeats , its good to know how the signs work and what they mean as you could be asked about them in your General knowledge questions!

Pencil Marks:
whilst some general pencil markings are not going to get you in sure to get rid of anything that could be a clue in your general knowledge questions!

Page Turns in your Music:

It's a students responsibility to make sure their pieces can be played without altering anything to make time for a page turn...your performance should run smoothly without hesitations. You could solve any problems by photocopying extra pages or memorising any passages.

If you need to have a larger spread of Pages..consider a page turner , or bringing in an extra stand so that you can spread the pages out over two stands. Unfortunately , you cant be asking your examiner to help you out with page turns.

Having said that , whilst photocopies are generally not allowed during an examination , you can use them to assist with page turns , so long as you can show that you own the original music too!

Friday, April 10, 2015

More useful AMEB examination tips!

Playing your Pieces by Memory:

It's not an official rule that any of your pieces should be presented from memory on the exam , but the truth is , Students than can play their pieces by memory really do demonstrate that they have mastered their pieces, and it does make a difference to the overall impression that you give to an examiner.

Having said that , I don't believe you can receive any additional marks for playing anything from memory , so if its not possible , or if you cant guarantee that you can play your pieces perfectly without the music...its probably safer to play with the music than risk a performance with mistakes or memory lapses.

Regardless of whether you do end up performing your pieces by memory or not , you MUST take all the music in with you anyway.